Dræb ikke en sangfugl
Back in the nineties I was very much into music, particularly British music, and one of the bands I liked was The Boo Radleys. Their music was pretty awesome and they had this odd name that I never really figured out. Now of course I know. Boo Radley is a character in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
I always get nervous when I encounter a movie aimed at adults, but featuring children. My worry is that the movie will feature child abuse or hurting of children (which of course is child abuse). This is a topic I truly abhor and cannot stomach, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” uses children differently. They are the observers. It is through them and their, as adults, memory of times past, we are told the story. I found that charming and the naivety of that viewpoint works very well for the movie.
Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford) are two children living in a small town in Alabama in the thirties. Their father (Gregory Peck), whom they call Atticus rather than father or dad, is a lawyer and a very honest and decent man. Their mother is dead so Atticus raises the children himself with the help of the housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans).
The children idolize their father and watches him take care of his job with bemused wonder. As for all children there is a deliciously scary monster down the road, the dim-witted Boo Radley (a very young Robert Duvall) and he is like the most exciting thing in town. When the boy Dill (John Megna) arrives, he challenges the children to further adventures.
That happens soon enough. Atticus is designated defense for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) who stand accused for raping the daughter of Bob Ewell (James Anderson), Mayella (Collin Wilcox), a local farmer. The children witness their father stand down a lynch mob and sneak into the court room to watch him defend the man. It is very clear that Tom is innocent, that Mayella was violated by her own father and Atticus is a good lawyer. There is just one little, but important catch: Tom is black and Mayella is white. Sadly, that decides the outcome. This is a wakeup call for the children who gets to see an ugly side of life and their very lives are now in danger.
I do not think it is a coincident that the book and the movie were released at this time. There is a conflict in the nostalgia for a time gone and the brutal injustice of that same time that very well represented the early sixties. I bet it raised questions that hurt and was only able to be raised then, but did it so in so gentle and naïve a manner that you do not turn away from it. In a way the cruel injustice is more effectively displayed here than many later stories that serve it right in your face.
The way I watch movies is by chopping them into pieces so I can watch them in my breaks, but it did not work so well with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I could not release it and the chunks got a lot bigger than I intended to. The fascination of those children extended to me and I could not let it go. That does not happen very often and it says a lot about the movie.
Scout and Jem were not annoying as most children on film are and Gregory Peck’s Atticus is the most sympathetic guy of the decade. In Game of Thrones he would not last five minutes. These are people you want to spend your time with. Juxtaposed we find the most despicable redneck scum imaginable and you wonder how this is possible in the same town.
I can only recommend “To Kill a Mockingbird”. These are two hours of your life you will not regret. And Boo Radley? He may be a lot more than the town monster if given a chance. Why, he may be your friend.